Durbin says Supreme Court ethics code ‘falls short’

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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Monday that the Supreme Court’s newly-announced ethics code “falls short” of what the standard should be after a months-long battle over justices receiving luxury gifts and trips from top GOP donors.

Durbin conceded that the adoption of an updated code represents a “step in the right direction.”

But he said it it is not enough, and raised concerns about enforcement and how much of the code is self-governed.

The No. 2 Senate Democrat noted that the ethics code includes a number of “important canons of conduct,” pointing to those on upholding integrity, independence of the judiciary and those related to improprieties.

“All of these are important steps, but they fall short of what we could and should expect when a Supreme Court issues a code of conduct,” Durbin said on the Senate floor.

Durbin also criticized the court’s statement earlier in the day that many of the items included in the code were “not new,” adding that it is a problem as the previous code was “plainly inadequate” for the Court.

“I’m still reviewing the court’s new code of conduct. For now, I will note that the court’s adoption of this code marks a step in the right direction,” he said. “It may fall short of the ethical standards which other federal judges are held to, and that’s unacceptable, and if it falls short the American people will ultimately have the last word and the integrity of the court is at issue.”

The Judiciary Committee chairman has found himself in a war of words with conservative justices in recent months amid a push for the panel to conduct congressional oversight of the court in the wake of multiple stories reporting lavish gifts and vacations received by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

The committee last week was set to vote on a pair of subpoenas for Harlan Crow, a GOP megadonor who has hosted Thomas for such vacations, and Leonard Leo, the longtime head of the Federalist Society, but pulled them abruptly.

According to a statement released by the justices, the court’s rules and principles are a “codification” of existing principles and were released in order to assuage concerns that they operate without oversight.

“The absence of a Code … has led in recent years to the misunderstanding that the Justices of this Court, unlike all other jurists in this country, regard themselves as unrestricted by any ethics rules,” the statement said. “To dispel this misunderstanding, we are issuing this Code, which largely represents a codification of principles that we have long regarded as governing our conduct.”

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